LEEDS FILM FESTIVAL 2003 / SHEFFIELD CINEMADAYS EVENT
report by Neil Young
SECTION ONE : Sheffield / Leeds
Thursday 2nd October (Sheffield) : Kill Bill : Vol.1, Mystic River, S.W.A.T.
Friday 3rd (Leeds) : The Coast Guard, Aro Tolbukhin – In the Mind of a Killer, Shangri-La (Japan Goes Bankrupt), Ju-On : The Grudge, Visitor Q
Saturday 4th (Sheffield) : Love Actually, Alien – Directors Cut, A Mighty Wind
Sunday 5th (Sheffield) : The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; (Leeds) Theyve Got Knut
Friday 10th : All About My Father, Dead End
Sunday 12th : Time of the Wolf, Undead, Bubba Ho-Tep
Thursday 2nd October
Cinemadays press-screening event, UGC Cinema, Sheffield
KILL BILL : VOL. 1
[rated 7/10 after second viewing, 15th Oct]
USA 2003 : Quentin TARANTINO : 110 mins
After box-office dud Jackie Brown (still his best), Tarantino retreats to hermetic bedroom-universe with wildly overhyped two-parter. Not since Kubrick heyday has nervy Hollywood studio indulged genius director to such lengths. Plot ostentatiously slight: after four comatose years, assassin (Uma Thurman) tracks down ex-colleagues who bloodily gatecrashed her wedding. Vengeance-quest is gore-splatted, though very sub-Miike. Deliberately daft, larkish picture has enough touches of wit and brilliance to stay watchable, despite annoying detours into dead-ends of cool (i.e. asinine immaturity.) Entertaining, but QT far too talented to waste time on bloated B-movie shenanigans.
[click here for full-length version of initial reaction review written in proper sentences]
[click here for notes on second viewing, 15th Oct]
USA 2003 : Clint EASTWOOD : 138 mins
Much like the other big Sean Penn Oscar-touted pic 21 Grams, Mystic River is essentially melodrama freighted with gravity and grief, given (unwarranted?) suggestions of depth by some powerhouse performances (Penn fine, Tim Robbins outstanding) but ultimately rather less than meets eye. For all its dour solidity, at heart a whodunnit that turns out to hinge on a wildly implausible coincidence. Eastwood takes stately approach to relatively pulpy material (based on chunky bestseller by Dennis Lehane). Structure is basic Stephen King: childhood pals / dark secret / drift apart / reunited by crisis when adults. Slight timeline confusion/inconsistency, however : if they were 11 years old, and its now 25 years later, shouldn’t they be 36? Penn, Robbins and Kevin Bacon look around decade older Absorbing stuff if predictable: identity of killer not hard to spot, despite massive red herring dangled insistently in our faces. Final half builds to very grim, bleak, downbeat final showdown between out-for-justice bereaved dad and prime suspect. Portentous dialogue (and title), slow pace stretches running-time far beyond two hours: even given this length, female characters sidelined: Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden not given enough to do. Flag in background (as well as crosses): subtext of post-9/11, coping with grief, search for revenge/justice. Intriguing that film seems to come down emphatically against vigilante justice. Mystic River: intriguingly muddy, slow-moving waters, but not quite as deep as they look.
USA 2003 : Clark Johnson : 111 mins (approx)
According to poster tagline, Even cops dial 911. Unfortunately, film critics have no such emergency panic-button response available when confronted with such a depressingly poor excuse for action-movie. Scriptwriter David Ayer (Training Day, Dark Blue) credited for utterly perfunctory script: string of uninspired would-be set-pieces add up to lumbering, paceless structure. Product placement abounds (Dr Pepper etc but of course whole film is extremely thinly veiled recruitment ad for SWAT (We don’t take lives we save lives! etc etc). Second such dodgy pic for star Colin Farrell after CIA-advert The Recruit he’s going to have to learn to be more discriminating in his choice of material. Likewise the promising Brian Van Holt again the good-natured, good-looking subordinate, but this is his third clunker in a row after Basic and Confidence. Has very little to do likewise Michelle Rodriguez once again wasted as tough Hispanic babe caricature. All so by-the-numbers: doesn’t even provide thickear fun in vein of Swordfish or Half Past Dead. Dull two hours a noisy waste of time and money. Score tries to sound like Heat; fails.
Friday 3rd October
Leeds Film Festival
Hae anseon : South Korea 2002 : KIM Ki-Duk : 94 mins (seen at Ster Century cinema)
Madness always one of duller subjects for films. Coast Guard offers two established types of insanity: male homicidal fury military mind gone insane (cf Stacy Keach in The Ninth Configuration); female regression to giggling childhood of la-la-land lyricism. Both cases result of same ultra-violent, ultra-gory incident: snogging lovers mistaken for spies by jittery army personnel guarding Korean coastline. Bloke gets machine-gunned then blown up by hand-grenade during sex. His partner understandably upset. Killer-soldier suffers severe trauma/stress. Both eventually spiral right over the edge into craziness. But he’s pretty volatile to begin with: conspicuously gung-ho sort (though only a Private). His development: one-way trip to full-blown psychosis. Film bogs down into repetitive histrionics and some clunky techniques (his disturbed mind indicated by camera shooting action through a wobbly pane of glass). Strong on khaki tensions barracks feuds, hysteria/paranoia of commanding officers. But focus on insane pair leads to dramatically inert results Kim presumably saying something very profound and heartfelt about local politics (film ends with caption praying for a peaceful unification of Korea. As in previous films, director not squeamish about making fish suffer fairly horribly on-camera. Finding Nemo this aint.
Aro Tolbukhin En la mente del asesino : Spain (Spn/Mex) 2002 : Isaac-Pierre RACINE & Agustin VILLARONGA : 95 mins (seen at Ster Century cinema)
Strong, original idea faux-documentary on a Hungarian who may or may not have gone on a kill-crazy rampage in early-80s Guatemala. And apparently convincing that those who don’t know the background have mistaken it for the real thing. But let down by some uninspired execution. 20 years on, Tolbukhins story is pieced together via 8mm footage / video / TV reports / newspapers / audio tape / interview with surviving witnesses and acquaintances including two key figures: 1) ex-nun whose relationship with Tolbukhin was key in her leaving the sisterhood, 2) Tolbukhins nanny from post-war Hungary. Hacing constructed such an intriguing framework, directors undo their efforts with clunky, very slow-moving dramatisations which accompany the ex-nun and nannys recollections. Hand-held, grainy stock for Guatelama 1980, glowing monochrome for Hungary 1956. Moments when picture catches fire literally so, in key Hungarian event that is easily most spectacular event. But too torpid too often. Regains footing for climax footage of Tolbukhins execution is shown. But, like so many key elements, those commenting on what we see misremember: testimonies are unreliable / conflicting, and in any case offer only a partial explanation of whatever Tolbukhin may or may not have done and why. Like Capturing the Friedmans, concerned with exposing the limits, and limitations, of documentary form but Tolbukhin falls down as drama.
Kin’yuu hametsu Nippon – Tgenky no hito-bito aka Togenkyo* : Japan 2002 : MIIKE Takashi : 105 mins
(seen at Hyde Park cinema video projection)
A printer on the verge of bankruptcy finds salvation and some very unorthodox advice – from an unlikely quarter in Shangri-La, a comic take on Japans financial crisis that sees Miike once again display a real flair for comedy (though even in his darkest horrors there’s usually plenty of sick humour on display). Upbeat, humanistic stuff in vein of The Happiness of the Katakuris, except without that movies demented flights of fancy and cheesy special effects: low-budget DV appropriate form to tell tale revolving around community of homeless (more accurate to say houseless) folk and their charismatic, enigmatic Mayor: played by A.Show in Dylanesque frightwig and dark glasses. Described in some quarters as Ealingesque, but Kaurismaki of Man Without A Past perhaps a more accurate comparison. As with Katakuris, larkish exterior but solid emotional core underpins it: touching and surprisingly moving moments (Nabe-sans ancient husband enjoying a simple meal of hot soup). Improvised feel, but surprising how tight this script is (based on a novel). Very tricky to do financial satire and sweet but unsentimental pic about capitalisms casualties. Miike nimbly avoids the pitfalls bouncy atmosphere, effortlessly watchable mise-en-scene, terrific set-pieces. Music a real plus, and very little down-time adds up to a minor delight.
For more information on director Takashi Miike check out our Director’s Lounge
* Japanese subtitle translates as “Village of the Financially Damned”
Ju-On aka The Grudge : Japan 2003 : SHIMIZU Takashi : 92 mins (seen at Hyde Park cinema)
The next big horror thing from Japan and of course remake rights have been snapped up by Hollywood. No surprise to find its in tradition of Ring and imitators creepy female ghost, haunted building, viral/spiralling circles of haunting/infection. But Ju-On fascinating for its formal innovation: short, discrete chapters follow identical pattern of creepy beginning, shock climax. Each chapter focusses on single victim. We jump back and forth in time, and the links between all the people gradually become apparent. Not always easy, however, to say with certainty who’s who, where and when such questions seem old hat, so determined is Shimizu to explore variations on one theme: adds up to an enjoyable (if somewhat hermetic) exercise in pure horror mechanics: use of the frame, build-up/release of tension, peek-a-boo shocks, etc. Repetitive, but no less effective for that. As they used to say about Dario Argento: don’t think, just panic. Banal crannies of houses/offices etc are entry points for sinister developments and visitors. Touches of genius: subtle (but nicely horrible) highlight when character takes a lift with see-through door: identical spectral kid visible on every single floor.
For a full review of this film click here.
Bizita Q : Japan 2001 : MIIKE Takashi : 84 mins (seen at Hyde Park cinema video projection)
Where to begin? Even Miike devotees likely to gawp open-mouthed at developments towards end of this one. If, that is, their eyes are still similarly ajar. As in Deadly Outlaw: Rekka, stretches of fairly unforgivable tedium along the way in tale of dysfunctional family sorted out, Theorem / Brimstone & Treacle style, by mysterious stranger (titular visitor Q, a dandy in red shirt and leather pants). Opens with a bang literally (dad has sex with his prostitute daughter incest in mirrored room) then slows down. But perks up with fireworks literally (bullied kids house targeted by pyrotechnic-wielding tormentors). Later developments crash merrily through taste-barrier: mother lactates in endless jets all over kitchen floor; greenhouse scene involves anal necrophilia, the corpses orifice lubricated by posthumous excreta. Miike deserves credit for sheer kick-ass transgression but churns out so many movies (four to six average per year) that quality control inevitably dips from time to time. This video-shot quickie far from his best, but hard to knock such brazen audacity.
For more information on director Takashi Miike check out our Director’s Lounge
by Neil Young